The Debris Whisperer
Lord of power and might,
whose mercy is everlasting,
guard and guide those who place their lives in the balance
to ensure the safety of those nearby.”
Explosive Ordnance Disposal prayer
Thomas Calabrese –The call came in and three Marine Corps Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians grabbed their gear and met their security detachment at the main gate and left Camp Leatherneck. Gunnery Sergeant Gideon Alexander was the senior man, Staff Sergeant Jake Reilly was next in line and the junior man on the team was Sergeant Jeremy Travis who just shipped in after finishing EOD School at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
The Marine platoon came across the IED (improvised explosive device) while on a routine patrol in the village of Washir, Afghanistan and immediately withdrew to a safe distance, evacuated any nearby residents, secured the perimeter and called in the bomb techs.
Gunny Alexander approached Lt. Chris Appleton, Platoon Commander, “Hey L.T. what have you got?”
Lt. Appleton pointed to a truck about two hundred yards away, “The dog picked up the scent of explosives and we got the hell out of there.”
“Good call,” Gunny Alexander replied then turned to Staff Sergeant Reilly, “Get Roscoe ready.”
Roscoe was the term that the EOD team called their bomb disposal robot. This particular model had state of the art video capabilities as well as mechanical hands that could manipulate the smallest wires.
Gunny Alexander turned to Lt. Appleton, “Most of these bombs are remotely detonated,” then ordered Staff Sergeant Jake Reilly, “Activate the cellphone signal jammer.”
“Roger that,” Jake pulled out an electronic device and turned it on to prevent any signals from reaching the detonator.
Gideon operated the remote control and sent Roscoe moving down the rocky road to evaluate the truck. When it got within twenty yards of the vehicle, the camera transmitted images of a fifty five gallon barrel with an explosive device strapped to the side of it. It was sitting in the bed of the Toyota pick-up truck and completely visible to the naked eye.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Gideon commented from years of combat experience.
What doesn’t,” Jake asked.
“Too easy, I’ve just got a feeling that we’re missing something,” Gideon scanned the area, looking for anything that would give substance to his suspicions, then moved Roscoe to the side of the vehicle, extended the mechanical arms and disconnected the wires which disabled the bomb.
Jake commented, “Once in a while, it’s nice to get an easy one.”
“We can tow the truck out of the area and then detonate the explosives,” Jeremy suggested.
“We can do that,” Gideon agreed.
The Marines tied one end of a seventy five foot chain to the front bumper of the Toyota and the other end to the rear of a Humvee. As they slowly pulled the truck down the road toward a clearing, Gideon noticed a villager in the distance walking parallel to the column. Just before the Marines reached the open area, the man on the hilltop pointed a rocket launcher in their direction.
“Hit the deck!” Gideon called out when he saw the smoke trail of the rocket headed in their direction.
The building on the east side of the road was filled with gasoline and explosives and when the rocket hit the structure, the entire area exploded and collapsed around the Marines. The force of the blast buried the Americans while shattering windows for over a half mile. Everything was spinning and when Gideon finally regained his senses, he pulled himself out of the rubble. One of the first things that he saw through the smoke and dust was the man on the hilltop, who dropped the rocket launcher and saluted.
The Marines slowly struggled to their feet and did a quick inventory of their bodies. Sixteen men were wounded, ranging in severity from slight to serious from flying shrapnel and debris and Staff Sergeant Jake Reilly was one of them. A large piece of metal struck his left leg several inches above the knee and was imbedded three inches deep and he was unconscious. Gideon wrapped a makeshift tourniquet above the wound to slow the bleeding until a Corpsman could arrive. When he moved a piece of debris that was lying near Jake’s head, Gideon saw a vision of a man working in an underground bomb making facility. It was so vivid that it seemed like he was viewing it on a high definition television program or was actually standing there.
“Are you alright?” Sergeant Travis touched Gideon’s arm while brushing off his clothes.
“Yeah,” Gideon mumbled, “I’m fine, but Jake had got a leg injury. Give me a hand.”
Gideon helped Jeremy carried their wounded comrade to a Humvee then said, “You go with Staff Sergeant Reilly and I’ll see up back at Camp.”
“Roger that, Gunny. You should get checked out by the Corpsman,” Jeremy suggested when he saw the glazed look in his superior’s eyes, “You might have a concussion.”
Something wasn’t right with him, Gideon had been around enough explosions in his career to know that the body and mind can react in a variety of ways to the trauma. When a bomb detonates, the energy released from the explosion radiates outward in all directions at once at speeds between 3 and 9 km per second. As this sphere of energy expands, it compresses and accelerates the surrounding air molecules into a supersonic blast wave. This overpressure only exists for a few milliseconds, but it is the primary cause of explosive injuries and property damage. The closer you are to the source of the blast, the more severe the compression.
The initial concussive force of the blast wave is immediately followed by high-velocity shock waves that impart more energy into whatever they’re passing through—be it a concrete wall or your vital organs. As a blast wave passes over an area, it leaves literally nothing behind. That supersonic wall of air leaves a near-perfect vacuum in its wake. So a split second after your body is severely compressed, it is subjected to an equally massive opposing depressurization force.
Unfortunately, the explosion isn’t over yet. Air immediately rushes in to fill the atmospheric void left behind by the blast wave, pulling debris and objects back towards the source of the explosion. This blast wind is strong enough to hurl a human body several meters. Those caught by the blast wind while standing up are the most vulnerable to being carried away. But it isn’t the wind itself that injures—it’s the blunt-force trauma resulting from you face-planting into the side of a truck at freeway speeds. This is why jumping behind a large, heavy object for protection from the blast wave only works in the movies.
This trauma wreaks havoc on the innards, especially air-filled organs like your lungs, ears, and stomach, as well as at joints and ligaments where tissues of differing densities meet. This often causes hemorrhaging, and it may even result in organ rupture. The lungs are especially at risk of hemorrhage as well as edema (swelling brought on by fluid buildup).
However, none of this happened to Gideon, in fact he never felt more aware of his surroundings than he did at this particular moment. When he picked up another piece of debris, he got another vision; this one was of several men conversing as they unloaded a truck. Gideon repeated the process of picking up debris around the area and each time that he did, another vision flashed through his mind.
When he got back to Camp Leatherneck, his first stop was the battalion aid station where Jake was lying in a bed with his leg elevated and wrapped. “How are you feeling?”
“I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck,” Jake slurred his words from the heavy dose of pain medication, “but I guess it could have been a lot worse.”
“You’ll probably have to skip your ballroom dancing lessons for a couple weeks, but the doctor told me that you should be out of here in a couple days and then on light duty for a couple more weeks after that.”
“Did you get hurt?” Jake asked.
“Shook up a little,” Gideon answered, “Where’s Jeremy, I thought he would be with you?”
“That knucklehead didn’t even know that he had a piece of shrapnel in his back. They’re working on him right now.”
“I’ll check in on both of you later, but right now I need to talk to a man about a bombmaker, rest up,” Gideon was gone in an instant.
Colonel David Stapleton was the commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, “So where did you get this Intel?”
Gideon saw no useful purpose in trying to explain his visions to Colonel Stapleton so he lied, “One of the villagers told me after the explosion.”
“Anytime we can take out a bombmaker, it’s worth the risk to go after them,” Colonel Stapleton said, “Are you well enough to go back out?”
“Affirmative, sir,” Gideon answered.
Ibrahim al-Asiri had a degree in electrical engineering and used his technical skills to build and detonate bombs all over Europe and the Middle East. Even though he detested America, Ibrahim wasn’t affiliated with any particular terrorist organization and was a capitalist at heart who sold his expertise and hatred to the highest bidder. At this particular time, the Taliban was paying him to create havoc with the American forces in the area, especially the Marines. His laboratory was hidden behind a building and could only be accessed by a well concealed tunnel. The Americans would never find it, at least that what al-Asiri thought.
100 heavily armed Marines were ready to leave Camp Leatherneck in less than thirty minutes and the convoy of trucks and Humvees headed east after leaving the gate. Captain Manfredo was in command and sitting in the same Humvee as Gideon, “Are you sure, we’re heading in the right direction?”
Gideon looked over and saw an open field with goats that looked very familiar, “Yes sir, I believe that we are,” so they kept driving for two more miles until, “Stop, that’s the place.”
Three squads of Marines were dispatched to check a house while the rest of the unit secured the perimeter and provided cover for them. Ten minutes later, Sergeant Mendez radioed in, “Lima 2/5, this is Bravo Team, we’ve got nothing.”
“Bravo, are you sure?” Captain Manfredo radioed.
“Affirmative, we’ve searched the house and it’s a big negative.”
“Roger that,” Captain Manfredo replied, “Bring it in.”
“Tell them to hold their position, I’d like to check it for myself,” Gideon suggested.
“We owe you EOD guys, so if you want to see it, I’ll go with you.”
Once inside the house, Gideon started getting dizzy so he leaned against the wall to steady himself. “Are you alright?” Captain Manfredo asked.
A vision flashed through Gunny Alexander’s mind, “Follow me.”
Located a hundred feet behind the house was a stone wall and next to it was a trap door that was disguised to blend in perfectly with the surroundings of grass and rock. Anybody that didn’t know it was there would not have seen it, of course Gunny Sergeant Gideon Alexander wasn’t just anybody. He also saw a tiny remote camera hidden among the tree branches pointing down at them. Inside the laboratory, Ibrahim al-Asiri was watching and listening to the Marines as the camera and hidden microphone transmitted images and sounds to the close circuit television screen below ground, “Trust me, the Americans will find never us,” The armed guards sighed and lowered their weapons.
“Nothing here, we might as well go,” Gideon called out as he scanned the area and saw a vent pipe protruding from the ground that was barely visible into the middle of a stack of firewood.
When the Marines got back to their vehicles, Gideon turned to Captain Manfredo, “I need some C-4 and detonating cord.”
“What’s going on?”
“This is one of those times when it is better to make a bomb than it is to diffuse one.”
When he was finished with the explosive device, Gideon cautiously made it back to where the vent pipe was located. He set the timer for three minutes and lowered it down the pipe and tied it off, then walked over top where the camera was located and pulled out a small piece of twisted metal from his pocket. He immediately got a vision of the over confident Ibrahim al-Asiri working on a detonator and when he saw the bombmaker casually look up at the television monitor, Gideon smiled and returned the salute.
The last thing that went through this mass murderer’s mind was that he had grossly overestimated himself while underestimating this Marine. It was one of those mistakes that there was no coming back from, and by the time Gideon reached the convoy where the Marines were waiting, the explosion destroyed the laboratory and killed every terrorist in it.
The veteran bomb tech didn’t waste time trying to figure how why he was given this special gift. There are a lot of things that happen in combat that defy explanation, and this was just one of them. There would also be plenty of time for self-reflection once the war on terrorism was over. If that day ever comes and he was lucky enough to still be alive, Gunnery Sergeant Gideon Alexander would quietly fade into oblivion and take his secret of being the ‘Debris Whisperer’ to his grave with him.